Bryce Gaudian of Hayward shared this photo of some cowbirds and “their” cow.
Bryce Gaudian of Hayward shared this photo of some cowbirds and “their” cow.
It was a Midas day. Everything had turned to gold. Fall is a lovely time. I walked, hoping to stumble upon something amazing. I find it impossible to keep from stumbling upon something amazing while walking. Arthur Rubinstein said, "To be alive, to be able to see, to walk, it's all a miracle."

A cloud of blackbirds headed to a destination known only to them. Red-winged blackbirds, grackles and cowbirds. They are common birds, but uncommonly beautiful.

Big bluestem grew on the roadside. It's a dominant grass species of the tall grass prairie. It's drought tolerant, responds favorably to grazing and can be maintained cheaply with the use of fire instead of fertilizer. It's warm-season grass that is very nutritious and supported bison herds. It provides erosion control and you can make hay. It's a tall plant growing 4- to 10-feet tall with roots going 10-feet down. It's often called turkey's foot because of the three-part flower clusters that resemble the feet of a turkey.

Birds in the imagination

I taught a class of fourth graders. Tona of Minneapolis asked if there was a bird that carried its nest with it, incubating the eggs in flight during migration. Thereby getting a jump on all the other birds. It's a great idea. It's a wonder no bird has done it.

Once upon a time, it was my great fortune to work with Don Martin, a cartoonist famed for his work in MAD Magazine. I recall his drawing and description of the yellow-tailed groot hawk.

"The female yellow-tailed groot hawk is very finicky, refusing to eat anything except the striped groot, a fish found only in the Pacific Ocean. This creates difficulties as groot hawks make their nests in the mountains of Colorado. Nonetheless, the male flies out for food twice a month, each round-trip taking 14 days. Unfortunately, he reaches the ocean in such an exhausted, dazed condition that he often brings back the wrong fish. This infuriates the female, who immediately sends him back to the Pacific. Very few groot hawks have lasting relationships."

Echoes From Loafers' Club

"I'm thinking of a number between 1 and 10."


"Just to see if I still could do it."

Driving by the Bruces

I have two wonderful neighbors - both named Bruce - who live across the road from each other. Whenever I pass their driveways, thoughts occur to me, such as: life is like a car, it's driven from the inside.

I've learned

The five-second rule applies to any dropped food except pie. The five-minute rule applies to pie.

This sentence contains exactly threee erors.

Prayer should never be used as a complaint department.

Overheard only because she was yelling into a cellphone at the Cleveland airport

"Don't worry, I'm calling him just so I can hang up on him."

Heard while leaning forward and listening

"No one could cook like my mother. The army came close, but no one could cook like my mother."

Restaurant reviews

I was in one of those noisy restaurants, the kind I try to avoid. There were football games on countless TV sets showcasing some quarterback who was faking retirement and then hitting a tight end running a square-in route for an 18-yard gain. The server asked if she could get me more deafening loudness. At least that's what I thought she had asked. I couldn't be sure. Either way, I declined. All that noise was too much for a man whose closest neighbors are squirrels.

My neighbor

Old Man McGinty, the youngest Old Man McGinty ever, drives so slow that it takes him three days to back out of his garage and go to the barbershop. Two days if his turn signal is off. Driving is difficult because he can't lift his arms very high due to that super glue accident back in 1998. He's a member of that generation of men who go to a barbershop even when they don't need a haircut. He has an "Ask me about my grandchildren" bumper sticker on his car. When people ask him about his grandchildren, Old Man McGinty tells them to mind their own business.

In local news

Two judges were arrested for speeding on Highway 13 on the same day. Rather than call in a visiting judge or travel out of the county, the two old friends agreed to hear one another's case.

The first judge took the bench while the second stood at the defendant's table and admitted his guilt. The sentencing judge immediately suspended both the fine and costs.

They switched places. The first judge admitted that he had been speeding, too. The second judge fined him $300 and ordered him to pay all court costs.

The first judge was furious. "I suspended your fine and costs, but you threw the book at me!" he snorted.

The second judge looked at him and replied, "This is the second case like this we've had here this morning. We need to nip this in the bud. Someone has to get tough on all this speeding."

Customer comments

David and Marjorie Cahlander of Burnsville invited me to come along on a cruise sponsored by David's alma mater, MIT. I turned down the kind offer. I can't even spell MIT.

Steve Weston of Eagan advised me that if I'm ever lost in the woods, I should follow an opossum. It would always lead me to a road.

Did you know?

Gastromancy is the practice of telling someone's fortune from the noises of the stomach interpreted as words.

Preantepenultimate means "fourth from last."

Reflexive sneezing induced by light, sunlight in particular, is estimated to occur in 18 to 35 percent of the population and is known as the photic sneeze reflex or the ACHOO (autosomal dominant compulsive helio-ophthalmic outbursts of sneezing) syndrome.

Nature notes

Darwyn Olson of Hartland asked why blue jays are so noisy in the fall. When nesting, they tend to be secretive and quieter. Fall flocks form and migration begins. They're vocalizing their discoveries of food, predators, family and friends. The blue jay frequently mimics the calls of hawks. These calls may warn other jays that a hawk is present or may deceive other species into believing a hawk is near.

Mark Twain wrote, "You may call a jay a bird. Well, so he is, in a measure - because he's got feathers on him, and don't belong to no church, perhaps; but otherwise he is just as much a human as you be. And I'll tell you for why. A jay's gifts and instincts, and feelings, and interests, cover the whole ground."

Twain added, "A jay hasn't got any more principle than a Congressman."


Tom Jessen of Madelia asked how the merlin got its name. In medieval falconry, a merlin was a female bird. The male was a jack. Because of its small size, this falcon was considered the right hunting bird for female falconers. The name "merlin" comes from the French word "esmerillon," which has the same root as "merle," another name for the European blackbird. Perhaps merlins were once used to hunt blackbirds. Merlins are sometimes called pigeon hawks.

Karen Wright of Mankato asked where yellowjackets go in winter. Yellowjackets have an annual nest. The old queen and the workers die when the temperature moves below freezing. Nests aren't reused. The only survivors are newly-mated queens that had left the nest. They overwinter in sheltered sites and start their own nests next spring.

Delbert Karsjens of Clarks Grove asked if there are more red-tailed hawks this year. Probably the most common hawk in North America, it uses its broad wings to soar in lazy circles. It's adept at perching atop utility poles while hunting. Red-tailed hawks nest from February to June. The female lays one to four eggs, which take 28 to 35 days to hatch. The young fledge in six or seven weeks. Great-horned owls and crows may raid nests. When rodent populations are high, redtails thrive. I don't know if there are more redtails, but their numbers are good.

Jim Johnson of Hartland spotted bluebirds at the end of October and worried about the lack of insects for them to eat. In fall and winter, bluebirds eat fruit including sumac, blueberries, black cherry, currants, holly, dogwood, hackberries, honeysuckle, bayberries, juniper and poison ivy berries.

Toni Perschbacher of Albert Lea asked why all robins don't migrate. She also asked what overwintering robins eat and what she could feed them. The vast majority of robins do move south in the winter. Robins migrate more in response to food than to temperature. The robin's winter food is fruit - including chokecherries, crabapples, hawthorn, dogwood, mountain ash, sumac and juniper berries. In spring, they switch to earthworms and insects. Robins are winter wanderers. They need more food in cold weather and as more fruit is eaten, they move in response to diminishing food supplies. They aren't true feeder birds, but could be fed mealworms and fresh or frozen fruit - chopped apple slices, raisins, blueberries, grapes, strawberries, raspberries, or cherries placed in a platform feeder on the ground. Robins occasionally feed on suet, but not on birdseed.

Thanks for stopping by

"The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders." - Edward Abbey

"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." - Sir Winston Churchill


© Al Batt 2013